Sugarcane harvest robust, but outside challenges loom for Cora Texas
The 2022 harvest season could be a record-breaker for Cora Texas Manufacturing Co. in White Castle, but the turn of events outside the sugar industry could pose major challenges.
Cora Texas projects a record amount of cane, between 37 and 39 tons per acre.
It marks a 10 percent increase from the 2021 harvest, according to Secretary and Chief Operating Officer Charles Schudmak.
An increase in rainfall over the past two weeks helped the tonnage.
Cane needs about a half-inch of rain weekly during harvest for photosynthesis to work and make sugar, which made the first month of grinding difficult, he said.
“It’s very good now,” he said. “Things changed, so we’ve gone from difficult material to some of the best we’ve ever seen …the rain helped.”
Cora Texas weathered hurricanes during 2020 and 2021, but hurricanes weren’t nearly as problematic as the freezes.
Cora Texas endured in November 2019 when temperatures plummeted into the low-to-mid 20s.
Extreme cold can harm crops, but cool weather is not a detriment.
Cool weather helps the processes because the cane deteriorates fast, so it’s kind of like having it in a refrigerator. The quality stays with the cane a lot longer, Schudmak said.
The varieties of crops that LSU and USDA have provided were developed specifically for the Louisiana sugar industry.
The challenges looming over the industry involve obstacles outside the industry’s control.
Many of those challenges stem from the limited supply chain, Schudmak said.
“We ordered some equipment that was supposed to be delivered in May, but it wasn’t delivered until October,” he said. “We’re having to order supplies much earlier.”
The workforce at Cora Texas remains solid in terms of numbers and productivity, with approximately 200 at the factory and 240 drivers who come in from Mexico during the harvest season.
The cost of supplies has also spiked.
“People read about 9 percent inflation, but industrial inflation is more like 20 percent per year for the last two years, so everything is like 40 percent more expensive,” Schudmak said. “The reason companies haven’t had to pass on costs to consumers as much as we’ve seen our price increase is because the price of sugar is such a small percentage of the retail price.”
The biggest concern ahead includes the proliferation of solar panels.
‘A lot of jobs are at stake with solar panels taking up farm acreage that could very easily put a farm out of business,” he said. “It will take a third or quarter of the U.S. land mass to meet all of our electrical needs.”
He's also concerned about the possibility of a railroad strike, which could bring the season to a halt.
Eighty percent of what leaves the refinery is transported by railroad.
“If they can’t move sugar out, it becomes a domino effect because then we run out of warehouse space here and we’d have shut down due to a lack of space –if you don’t have a place to put it, you can’t make it,” Schudmak said. “The railroad strike is something we have no control over.”
It could also affect the food costs because half of the food items in a grocery store contain sugar, he said.
Challenges are nothing new for the Schudmak family, who have been involved with Cora Texas since the 1920s.
The have endured everything from a fire in the 1920s to the Great Depression and World War II.
“The key to the perseverance is reinvestment and staying ahead of the foreign growth, and improving in efficiency and automation,” Schudmak said. “As long as people keep eating, we’ll be fine.”